Mills Double DeLuxe Violano Virtuoso

2 minute read


One of only a handful ever made, this spectacular Double DeLuxe Violano Virtuoso, created by the Mills Novelty Company, is an important and extremely rare example of American musical automata, featuring not one, but two brilliantly tuned violins. Singled out by the U.S. government in 1909 as one of the eight greatest inventions of the decade when it was introduced at the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition, the Mills DeLuxe Violano-Virtuoso stands as one of the most important and incredible musical devices ever made. The "Double Mills," as it was nicknamed, plays classical, operatic and popular music. It can play on a single or up to 15 nickels and has the ability to run for approximately an hour. It produces exceptional sound with a crisp tonal quality and melodious notes. Housed in its beautiful quartersawn oak, each violin produces 64 notes and is accompanied by a 44-note piano. It is truly rare to find a historical musical mechanism so complete, with such remarkable sound quality and in excellent condition.

Perfected and patented in 1912 by Henry K. Sandell, the Violano-Virtuoso was produced in limited quantities until 1929 and could be found in the very finest restaurants, hotels, and oceanliners. In fact, the Violano-Virtuoso was one of the few American-made mechanical musical devices to be distributed worldwide to the most exclusive international clientele. This double-violin example is a true rarity in that it remains in exceptionally fine, working condition. This particular Violano has been updated with a digital player system that allows song selections to be made over a WiFi connection. This gives the user a choice between digital downloads or traditional paper rolls for added convenience.

The below testimonial was sent to the Mills Company by the Governor of Idaho, aptly describing the incredible music produced by the Violano-Virtuoso.

Dear Sir,Have just had the pleasure of listening to your wonderful Automatic Violin and Piano on exhibition at the Government Building here. This marvelous instrument certainly far surpasses anything that I have eve heard in automatic music. The tone and expression of the violin and the piano are so perfect and clear that is really hard to believe but that there is the human hand playing..."

Indeed, for the price of a nickel, the Mills Violano-Virtuoso delivered a wide variety of musical entertainment ranging from classical operatic arrangements to the popular tunes of the day. Using rolls of perforated paper in much the same way as a player piano, it could play music on either the violins or the piano, or both, offering an unparalleled combination of sound. The violins vary from the usual in that they have no fingerboard. Instead, a small metal “finger” rises from under the string lifting it in a “V” shaped slot thus stopping off the string. The strings are bowed by four small wheels made of discs of celluloid clamped together, applying just the right pressure to the strings. These are driven by a delicate variable speed controlled motor to vary the volume of sound produced. The vibrato is produced by shaking the tailpiece of the violin with a series of pneumatic pistons operated by a vacuum pump. The frame of the piano is shield shaped, supporting the bass strings in the center and the treble strings on either side, which evens the stress on the frame and assists in maintaining the piano's tuning. Up to 15 coins could be accommodated and, depending on the number of songs on each of the music rolls, the Violano-Virtuoso could play for up to an hour. De Luxe Violano-Virtuoso machines of this caliber and condition, retaining such a superb tonal quality, are extremely rare today.

A similar Mills Novelty Company DeLuxe Violano Virtuoso is featured in Q. David Bowers' Encyclopedia of Automatic Musical Instruments on page 520.

Circa 1920





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